Honoring the Pioneers
A History of Virginia Press Women and Virginia Professional Communicators
In 1958 newspapers were plentiful, but career opportunities for women in newspapers were starkly different than those for men. Men wrote the “hard news,” and women were assigned to write the “social” stories — fundraising events, weddings, anniversaries, food, decorating and fashion. Employment ads were segregated, too: “Help wanted—male” and “Help wanted—female.”
There were enough feisty women in Virginia to rebel. They wanted demanding careers, equal recognition and a fair shot at seats in the courtrooms, the legislatures, the governors’ press conferences and the editors’ desks. They did something to make it happen. They started a new organization, and they called it “Virginia Press Women.”
Conferences and Contests
In the late 1950s, they organized a statewide conference, and two each year after that. By the year 2017, the group had held about 120 conferences in various parts of the state: Richmond, Fredericksburg, Charlottesville, Roanoke, Norfolk, Farmville, Lexington, and other places, too. The conferences have been filled with continuing education, recognition for awards and networking.
They recognized that their members were so talented, they should be recognized with annual awards for writing, photography, editing and many other categories. Recognition expanded to include “Press Woman of the Year,” also known as “Woman of Distinction,” which evolved to “Communicator of Achievement.” VPW also started a “Distinguished Service Award.”
These contest winners and award winners would be doubly honored, because Virginia Press Women enjoyed its affiliate relationship with the National Federation of Press Women (NFPW), which included chartered affiliates from other states. Virginia Press Women has always been actively engaged with NFPW, as many award winners advanced to national recognition and national leadership. On many occasions, Virginia Press Women took the coveted “Sweepstakes” award, given to the state that wins the most award points.
Another major Virginia Press Women recognition is “Newsmaker of the Year.” That title goes to the person (or group) with ties to Virginia and who has done something to make significant news in the past year. The list of honorees is long and impressive. Records go back to 1969, when Ann H. Kilgore, the mayor of Hampton, was chosen. Many of the winners have been active in politics, but winners have also come from philanthropy (Patricia Kluge, Doris Buffett), the arts (Daphne and Tim Reid, Susan Greenbaum), the military (Lt. Paula Coughlin, Lt. Gen. Claudia Kennedy, Brig. Gen. Gail M. Reals), entrepreneurs (Lillian Vernon, Rowena Fullinwider), religion (Virginia’s women priests), and, of course, writers (Patricia Cornwell, Nikki Giovanni). A clear favorite was Big Stone Gap’s native daughter, Adriana Trigiani. And a famous international star was honored in 1978: Elizabeth Taylor.
The high school writing contest was introduced in 1982. Ten years later, a scholarship was initiated and named for the inimitable Alice Cooke of Northern Neck. She was a founding member, former president and a journalistic force with which to be reckoned.
Being a group of writers, VPW has always provided a newsletter, cleverly titled, “Galley Pruf.” The group compiled a cookbook in 1964, which can be found in the Library of Virginia.
Virginia Press Women officers have always been inspiring women with a gift of leadership. Ulrich Troubetzkoy served as president of NFPW from 1967 to 1969. Cynthia Price went from the VPW presidency (2004-2006) to serve as NFPW president (2009-2011). Other national notables are in the area of “Communicator of Achievement.” Louise Seals, who was one of a handful of female managing editors at one time, and Cynthia Price both won the national honor. Bonnie Atwood was a runner up.
All of these milestones were achieved under the name Virginia Press Women. However, looking toward a more inclusionary message, the group formally changed its name in 2014. The organization is now called “Virginia Professional Communicators.”